Enter The Void review

When you make your name as The Man Who Made That Film With The Nine-Minute Rape Sequence, anything you do after that will always be greeted with nervous apprehension. But while Irreversible did a sound job of marking out Gaspar Noe as a director whose films need to be approached with caution, what was overlooked was that it was balanced out with genuine tenderness and emotional depth, and proved that his films are dazzling, shot through with technical verve, with an eye for stunning camerawork, potent editing and fresh storytelling, as well as a striking feel for the immersive capabilities of cinema.

Returning with Enter The Void, Noe has worked up another stark portrait of life, but those of you who’ve swerved his oeuvre until now may be relived to know that this druggy opus is at least slightly more palatable – well, kinda, sorta, after a fashion. Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) spends his days either on drugs or selling them, with the neon-scrawled, unnatural skyline of Tokyo providing the perfect playground for his blissed-out state. He's kept company by his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who’s getting by as a stripper, but when Oscar’s stupid behaviour leads to his death in a drugs bust, his spirit takes flight from his body, honouring a lifelong promise to her that they’d never part. Inspired by his recent introduction to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Oscar's soul watches over the wreckage left in his wake and works through the traumas from his past, knocking about in a psychedelic limbo until he can find closure.

It’s a pity that the phrase “It’s like (insert item here) on acid” has been dispatched to bad Nineties Journo Cliché Heaven, as for once it’s totally apt. Shorthand pegs Enter The Void as Lost In Translation meets Trainspotting, but even if you chuck in the whacked-out mess of Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, the visionary rush of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the pessimism of Requiem For A Dream, you still wouldn’t even be close to nailing it. Giving up any pretence of sticking to the beaten path, Noe has sidestepped traditional film-making to instead try to shove you headfirst into a DMT trip, bombarding your head with a ceaseless stream of radiant, throbbing images, starting with a genuinely mind-blowing title sequence, until your synapses jizz. While it's all aiming for a milieu that's clearly unworldly, Noe still retains a key interest in the emotional drama, with the relationship between the siblings underpinned with poignancy and humanity, their bond recognisable, their crappy decision-making understandable.

But for all its bravura and noble attempts at sheer originality, things fall apart, really quite badly so, spoiling what could genuinely have been a contender for one of the Films of the Year. There's a really delicate balancing act that needed to be performed, and although Noe stands by his creative decisions, they cause some fundamental problems. By making Oscar a fucked-up everyman, Noe has limited how far you can can empathise with him - essential when the whole film is in his POV, which you're projected into - meaning that if you aspire to greater things in life than getting your rocks off, then you’re going to rapidly lose interest in him and get seriously bored. This isn't helped by the groaning running time and the way it plays out. Noe has committed to recreating a trip, and has aimed for a streaming narrative that wants the avoidance of traditional story markers, hopefully making the timing feel more natural. Sadly, this backfires - when a film is over two hours long it needs to be kept under control, but once Oscar dies, it drifts into an often tedious, rambling porn-and-drugs fest that just slumps towards an ending, reversing into a signposted finale like a HGV lorry that has spent half an hour looking for a space. Intended as an out-of-body DMT trip, it instead ends up feeling like a blast of amyl nitrate - a massive headrush that quickly passes, leaving behind a nagging headache.

But, but, buuuuuttttttt, for all the flaws, Enter The Void shouldn't be dismissed and I'd still urge you to see it, as we need to encourage film-makers to take chances like this. Enter The Void is an immense piece of work, a glorious failure, packed with visuals, moments and ideas that will stay with you. Time will be kind to it.

Enter The Void at IMDb

INTERVIEW: co-writer/director Gaspar Noe

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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